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5 Types of Microscopes and What They Are Used For

Microscopes are used for a huge range of applications and are one of the most commonplace pieces of kit in a laboratory. The word microscope comes from the ancient Greek word for ‘small’ which is mikros, and ‘to look or see’ which is skopein, and these devices have been around for many years. In simple terms, they are used to view tiny objects in more detail than is possible with just the human eye.

There are various types of microscope available in today’s market, which is why we have collaborated with the experts from one of our partners BMS microscopes to help you understand which type of microscope is right for you. We’ve created this guide to explain the different types of microscopes and what they are used for.

Compound Microscopes

Compound microscopes are most commonly used in laboratories, schools, vets, and for histology uses. They feature two lenses, providing a better magnification than a simple microscope. With this kind of equipment, the second lens further magnifies the image from the first lens. Compound microscopes light the sample from below, and samples need to be placed onto slides with a cover slip.

These microscopes are great for viewing items which are too small to see with the naked eye. They offer magnification all the way up to 1000x, but commonly come as 40x, 100x, or 400x magnification. Compound microscopes which magnify up to 1000x often have low resolution at this level, making them unsuitable for viewing tiny details. Compound microscopes are used to view a range of samples including cheek cells, blood cells, bacteria, parasites, tissue, algae, and thin sections of organs.

Stereo Microscopes

Stereo microscopes provide a stereo, or 3D, image of a sample. They are great for looking closely at samples which are large enough to hold in your hand. Most stereo microscopes provide magnification between 10x and 40x, so they are not designed for very close examination of tiny samples. They use both reflected and transmitted illumination to view samples which do not allow light to pass through.

The most common uses for stereo microscopes include coin collecting, quality control, botany, and high school dissection projects. Many people use stereo microscopes for looking in detail at items such as flowers, insects, coins, metal parts, plastic parts, circuit boards, small animals, wires, and fabric weaves.

Digital Microscopes

Digital microscopes are the latest in microscope technology and bring many benefits that aren’t available with other traditional devices. This kind of equipment uses a computer in order to take an in-depth look at tiny samples which aren’t visible to the naked eye. They are available either with or without eye pieces and connect to a monitor using a USB connection. The magnified sample is displayed on the monitor, and still images or videos can be captured and saved.

They work using a blend of both optics and a digital camera, and digital microscopes are available as either simple piece of equipment or advanced systems with many features. These kinds of microscopes are commonly used in research, medicine, education, forensics, and manufacturing. Some common uses include inspecting brake pads in vehicles, detecting counterfeit documents, converting artwork, and making intricate jewellery repairs.

Monocular Microscopes

Monocular microscopes have just one eye piece for viewing samples, and they can be stereo or digital. Generally, with a single eye piece, a microscope can magnify up to 1000x depending on the type. Compound microscopes cannot be monocular as they require more than one eye piece. Monocular microscopes are commonly used in school classrooms for basic science experiments. It is important to bear in mind that with a monocular microscope you cannot achieve the depth and 3D appearance, so all samples will look flat.

Binocular & Trinocular Microscopes

Both binocular and trinocular microscopes are similar, and available as compound, stereo, or digital microscopes. A binocular microscope has two eye pieces, and many users find them the most comfortable option to use. Trinocular microscopes have a third eye piece which can be used to mount a camera on without disruption. With a camera mounted, views of the sample can easily be shared and saved, just like with a digital microscope. These types of microscopes can be used for almost any applications where a detailed viewing of a small object is required.


BMS have been manufacturing high quality microscopes of all kinds for many years, which is why we’re so happy to be an exclusive partner, stocking various BMS microscopes and accessories that are only the highest in quality and specification. So, no matter if it’s to perform an experiment to classroom full of students, or as part of a microbiology study for a private research facility, SciChem have you covered.